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“Try Getting To Know Each Other”: Don’t Argue About Politics This Thanksgiving. Just Don’t

Imagine this scene on Thanksgiving day. The turkey is partly carved, the mashed potatoes are being passed around.

Your Mother: What are you thankful for?

You: Well, if I can say so, I’m thankful for ObamaCare because it was great that I was able to sign up for health insurance on the internet.

Caricatured Uncle: Hope Reverend Wright isn’t on your death panel! Payback for Ferguson coming to you.

Your Mother [hoping to get control of the situation]: I did something different this year with the sweet potatoes! Do you like it?

Never fear. The pundits are here to save you. Think Progress has a guide on “how to argue with your Evangelical uncle” about marriage equality. Vox is advising you on Bill Cosby, Ferguson, and immigration (you’re for it as much as possible, of course).

Last year, some of Michael Bloomberg’s dollars trickled down to someone who gave you talking points on gun control. Chris Hayes is once again dedicating an hour of his MSNBC show to the cause.

Less combatively, Conor Friedersdorf advises you to adopt his brand of nodding empathy: “Before you focus on any point of disagreement, ask questions of your interlocutor to figure out why they think the way they do about the subject at hand.”

These advice columns are becoming a genre unto themselves. The stock villain: crazy right-wing uncle, the jokes about stuffing. But I recognize them by what they unwittingly emulate: guides for religious evangelism. The gentle, righteous self-regard, the slightly orthogonal response guides, the implied urgency to cure your loved ones of their ignorance. Your raging uncle will know the truth, and the truth will set him free.

That’s a problem. Our politics are taking on a religious shape. Increasingly we allow politics to form our moral identity and self-conception. We surround ourselves with an invisible community of the “elect” who share our convictions, and convince ourselves that even our closest and beloved relatives are not only wrong, but enemies of goodness itself. And so one of the best, least religious holidays in the calendar becomes a chance to deliver your uncle up as a sinner in the hands of an angry niece.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. As a conservative raised in an argumentative and left-leaning Irish-American family, Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners did more than any professional media training to prepare me for MSNBC panels. But arguments like these, particularly when we allow politics to dominate our notions of ourselves, can leave lasting scars. And precisely because our familial relationships are so personal, the likely responses to our creamed and beaten talking points will be defensive, anxious, off-subject, or overly aggressive.

You might think you can sneak in a killer talking point about immigration reform, only to touch off a sprawling congress about the personhood of unborn children, the Vietnam War, and whether it is really sexist to describe Nancy Pelosi as a “tough broad.”

Instead, what we really need are guides for gently deflecting the conversation away from politics, as our polite grandmothers once did.

Bringing up politics can be a form of self-assertion, or a way for a family member to test whether he is accepted for who he is. One of the reasons the “conservative uncle” has become the cliched oaf of the Thanksgiving dinner is precisely because he may feel, rightly or wrongly, that the country is moving away from him. He could be testing to see whether his family is ready to reject him, too. Or he could just be an oafish, self-regarding lout. Either way, it doesn’t have to be that hard to show he is appreciated as a family member and human being.

Caricatured Uncle: Obummer sure got waxed in that election. Guess he isn’t the Messiah, huh?

You: Har har, you got me. But hey, I get to read and think about the news every day. I only see you twice a year. How is the renovation going?

Instead of honing your argument on tax reform into unassailability, maybe ask your parents or siblings ahead of time what some of the further-flung or more volatile members of your family are up to in their lives before they sit down. Get the family’s talking points, rather than Mike Bloomberg’s.

And if you do want to pointlessly and frustratingly argue about politics with your uncle, just friend him on Facebook.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, November 26, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Family Values, Politics, Thanksgiving | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Great National ‘Franksgiving’ Uproar”: Imagine The Reaction If Obama Used An Executive Order To Change Date Of A Major Holiday

The story of Franklin Roosevelt moving Thanksgiving is probably pretty well known, but with the holiday coming up tomorrow, and with the ongoing debate about executive powers apparently fresh on the political world’s mind, it’s probably worth a trip down memory lane.

Historically, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the final Thursday of November. But in 1939, with the nation still dealing with the effects of the Great Depression and the unemployment rate above 15%, there was a small problem with the calendar: Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 30.

This may not sound especially important, but for businesses relying on holiday sales, this was a threat to bottom lines – it shortened the number of shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Business owners, pointing to the weak economy, demanded action.

And FDR delivered, issuing an executive order that moved the official date of Thanksgiving up a week, from Nov. 30 to Nov. 23. As Andrew Prokop explained, this really didn’t go over well.

What may have seemed like a wonkish, technocratic, good-government policy clashed with what turned out to be deeply-ingrained feelings among many Americans about when Thanksgiving should be celebrated. The Associated Press story announcing the move said Roosevelt “was shattering another precedent,” and quoted a town official of Plymouth, Massachusetts saying the traditional date was “sacred.” […]

Republicans pounced, and used the move to portray Roosevelt as a power-mad tyrant. In an early example of Godwin’s Law, FDR’s recent presidential opponent Alf Landon said Roosevelt sprung his decision on “an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.” Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire suggested that while Roosevelt was at it, he should abolish winter.

One Republican mayor labeled the new date “Franksgiving.” Extending the protest further, roughly half the states chose to honor the old date rather than the new one.

The date then bounced around for a couple of years, until Congress eventually passed a new law, moving the date from the final Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday in November.

So, FDR and businesses owners scored a partial win, at least insofar as the Nov. 30 problem is concerned.

The thing I like about this story now is its contemporary salience: President Obama, for example, is not the first Democratic president that Republicans compared to Hitler.

Plus, try to imagine the reaction if Obama used an executive order to change the date of a major holiday without congressional approval. If his critics go berserk when he uses prosecutorial discretion on immigration, Republicans might very well faint if Thanksgiving moved to create more shopping days.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 27, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders, FDR, Thanksgiving | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Difficult Not To Think About Loss”: Face It; Thanksgiving Is Depressing This Year, And You Don’t Have To Give Thanks

This Thanksgiving, it’s difficult not to think about loss.

For a lot of people, this time of year brings more sadness than cheer – thinking about the kinds of relationships you wish you could have with family or friend, thinking about loved ones that aren’t there. And as injustice prevails in Ferguson, as another young man of color is killed with seeming impunity, as sexual predators are given standing ovations and sexual violence across the US continues to be unearthed, it’s hard to remember how to be thankful. It’s easier to ask what we are supposed to be thankful for at all.

Hard times can bring out the best in people – whether it’s a national tragedy or an individual loss, some of us comfort each other and try to send hope even when it feels like there is none. More than once this year, as people in my life have suffered losses, I’ve sent around this Rumi quote: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

But what if there are just too many wounds? What if we can’t see any light?

Earlier this month I found out that a friend (with whom I’d fallen out of touch) had killed himself. I struggled to reconcile the memories I had of him – equal parts kind and hilarious – with what his last days or weeks must have been like. He was an artist, and I still have one of his paintings – it’s chaotic and beautiful, and I wish I could find some answer in it as to why he is gone. But all I see is paint.

Sometimes it’s all we can do not to let our losses eat us whole.

It’s incredible, really, that those who experience tremendous loss and injustice have the strength to go on fighting. It’s amazing that people – parents – whose children’s lives and futures were stolen from continue on with grace. But I wonder how the rest of us can think to ask them, even for one day a year, to be thankful. To look on the bright side. To be positive.

Whether their wounds are fresh or years old, asking such a thing of hurt people feels a bit selfish – like we don’t want to bear witness to their pain, so we ask them to put a happy face on it. Maybe asking people to think about what they’re grateful for can be a way to help them to move on or be happy despite their hurt – or maybe that’s just what we like to tell ourselves. But doing so requires enough self reflection to be sure it’s about what someone really needs instead of our desires to do something.

As I prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family this week, I’m acutely aware of how incredibly lucky I am to have a family that loves me, to have food on the table.

But I’m not thankful, and this year – for reasons much more important than my own – I don’t believe we should ask anyone else to be either. We can be there for each other, and we can comfort each other, but let’s not demand gratefulness from one another in a time of sorrow.

 

By: Jessica Valenti, The Guardian, November 27, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Thanksgiving, Violence Against Women | , , | Leave a comment

   

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